If you’ve ever applied for or renewed a passport, you’re probably well aware that the process is neither simple nor fast. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, routine processing times for passport services are currently six weeks from the time of application—and that’s only if you completed everything correctly the first time around. If you need to obtain a tourist or business visa for your destination, the process will take even longer.
While such an extended turn-around time is fine if you have the luxury of planning head, how can you obtain these important documents when life throws a curve ball and you have to travel much sooner? The answer is through a passport and visa expediting service like ItsEasy.
RewardExpert spoke with Mark Harris, the company’s executive vice president, about the service’s background, how it works, and his tips for using ItsEasy to secure an expedited U.S. passport and/or business or tourist visa.
Founding and Growth
Founded by David Alwadish more than four decades ago, license plate tags actually inspired ItsEasy’s expediting service.
“David’s father ran one of the largest license plate tag getting companies in the country,” Harris says. “To this day, when you purchase a car from a dealership, they charge you for tax, tags and title. Obtaining the tags is a task tackled by a third-party company that is paid a small service fee in exchange for sitting in line at the local DMV.”
A dealership owner who needed a passport asked Alwadish—who was working for his father at that time—to run into New York City and submit the documents, just as he would if he was obtaining license plate tags.
“David was able to do that,” Harris says, “and it’s actually how the entire industry started. Under his father’s tutelage, he slowly built out the passport and visa side to develop ItsEasy.”
The company has expedited more than two million passport and visa applications since its founding. While it still calls New York City home, ItsEasy now has service centers in Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, District of Columbia, Houston and Denver along with processing centers located in key cities throughout the country.
Harris describes the last ten years as “tumultuous” for the industry as a whole—mainly due to changing regulations and political relations.“The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which started in 2007, required U.S. citizens to carry a passport for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean,” he explains. “This created a huge spike in passport demand, and the average number of passports issued each year jumped from between 5 million and 6 million to between 15 million and 18 million. That was obviously very good for us but has tapered off. Around 100,000 is now our yearly goal.”
How it Works
Harris says ItsEasy takes pride in simplifying the passport and visa process as much as possible for everyone who uses their services. To get started, just visit the website, select from visa and passport or passport only options, and enter a few details such as nationality, residency, destination and purpose of travel.
The website will then redirect you to a page that outlines the prerequisites, process overview and documentation necessary to utilize their passport and/or visa expediting services. To work with ItsEasy, you must be able to prove—through a computer-generated itinerary, online booking tool or letter from a high-level supervisor—that you will be traveling in less than three weeks.
“We provide support by email, online chat and telephone 24/7/365 for no additional charge,” Harris says. “Whether someone has never obtained a passport or visa before, can’t find their current passport, or just realized it has expired, we’re here to walk them through the process.”
“They place their order online through a very simple checkout process,” he continues. “We then provide them with a FedEx air bill so they can send the required documents to us.”
Once the ItsEasy team receives your documents, they review everything to make sure it is correct. This cuts down on unforeseen processing delays once the application reaches the appropriate government agency.
“I’d say 60 to 70 percent of the time, everything is okay when we get it,” Harris says. “However, 30 to 40 percent of the time there are issues that will require us to interface with the applicant. Sometimes they fill forms out incorrectly, forget to sign their application, or send in photos that won’t work. It’s often something little, but we try to get the issue alleviated before we actually submit the application to the consulate, embassy or State Department.”
As a U.S. government-registered expediting company, ItsEasy has prearranged appointments with the State Department every day as well as relationships with employees within foreign consulates and embassies.
“We’re at most of these agencies two or three times a day, constantly checking on applications,” Harris says. “As soon as a passport or visa is ready, it is brought back to the office for check-in. Then it is FedExed out to the client for the following day.”
Costs for ItsEasy’s services vary depending on the processing time required. In the case of passports, 10-day processing is available for $89 (on top of the State Department’s expedited fee of $170). If you need your passport in less time, you’ll pay ItsEasy between $129 and $269.
“The biggest tip is to apply early,” Harris says. “We charge more for last-minute processing, but we don’t like to do that any more than our customers like paying for it. We would prefer to handle people’s needs weeks before their trip instead of days before they leave.”
He urges travelers to check passport and visa requirements as soon as they begin to consider a destination for their next journey. “Make sure you already have what you need or have time to get it,” he says. “The worst is when we see people who have saved up for a year and booked a trip only to have to cancel it because there’s no way to get a visa in the time they have left.”
“My second tip is to tell us everything we need to know at the beginning,” Harris continues. “Sometimes customers fail to provide us with all of the relevant information—such as additional legs on their trip—or say they are leaving sooner than they actually are because they think that will speed up their processing time. It never does. They just end up paying a lot of money for a service they aren’t going to get.”
He also encourages travelers to pay close attention to their passport photos and the signature on their application. “Sometimes they forget to sign the application,” he says. “Other times they have hyphenated names and abbreviate their signature on the application. Look at your previous passport before you sign to make sure it resembles it as closely as possible.”
As far as photos, Harris notes they are most often the cause of avoidable issues. “We can tell the minute we open a package if the photo is professional or was made at home,” he says. “We always suggest going to a CVS, Walgreens or the post office for a professional photo. Or use the ItsEasy Passport Renewal and Photo App (available for iPhone and Android). It will allow you to take your passport photo for free when you use our expediting service.”